Tags: 2007




Happy New Year!

At the beginning of 2007 I listed some resolutions:

  • to get back to some “real” work,
  • to keep travelling and speaking (I do love it so!),
  • to not write a book,
  • to play more bouzouki.

Three out of four ain’t bad. While I didn’t play nearly enough bouzouki, I enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and diving back into HTML/CSS/JavaScript, I really enjoyed not writing a book and yes, I certainly did plenty of public speaking:

  • Web Directions North Web Directions North in February
  • BarCamp London 2 BarCamp London 2 in February
  • South by Southwest South by Southwest in March
  • Highland Fling The Highland Fling in April
  • Web 2.0 Expo Web 2.0 Expo in April
  • XTech XTech in May
  • @media America @media America in May
  • Reboot 9.0 Reboot 9.0 in May
  • @media Europe @media Europe in June
  • Hackday Hackday in June
  • An Event Apart An Event Apart in August
  • dConstruct dConstruct in September
  • BarCamp Brighton BarCamp Brighton in September
  • Fundamentos Web Fundamentos Web in October
  • Voices That Matter Voices That Matter in October
  • Web 2.0 Expo Berlin Web 2.0 Expo Berlin in November
  • @media Ajax @media Ajax in November
  • BarCamp London 3 BarCamp London 3 in November

As a result, I did plenty of travelling. I paid inaugural visits to some wonderful destinations:

  • Whistler Whistler
  • San Francisco San Francisco
  • New York New York
  • Chicago Chicago
  • Asturias Asturias

I’ve already got some more travelling lined up for 2008. I’ll be making at least one return trip to San Francisco and needless to say, I’ll be in Austin again for South by Southwest. But not all of my sojourns will be web-related—Jessica and I will be making a trip to Thailand in February that I’m very excited about.

I’m going to start cranking up this year’s odometer in a few hours when I make my return trip across the Atlantic from Arizona back to Brighton. I think one of my new year’s resolutions should be to plant a forest in an attempt to assuage the guilt I’m feeling about my carbon footprint.

For my future self throughout this coming year, here are those resolutions you were looking for:

That media

@media Europe is all wrapped up. And a very fun experience it was too.

The high standard set at @media America was maintained for the British version. Mind you, I did find the double-track programme a little off-putting. I think that the San Francisco event had more of a communal feel. Of course, that could be down to its more intimate nature—150 people instead of 700—but the fact that everyone was seeing the same presentations meant that everyone had plenty in common. When a conference is split over multiple tracks, there’s an inevitable corresponding fracture in the audience too.

As far as audiences go, the @media crowd may have been fractured into designer and developer factions but there’s no escaping the fact that these people are savvy… really savvy. They know their stuff when it comes to web standards and accessibility. I’m sure I was teaching grandma to suck eggs but I addressed the issue of Ajax, specifically Bulletproof Ajax (Hijax in other words). It seemed to go over pretty well. The fact that the material had already been road-tested in San Francisco probably helped. If you’re curious, you can see the slides (PDF). Once the podcast is ready, I’ll get the audio transcribed.

My duties weren’t done when my presentation was finished. As with the American leg of @media, I had the pleasure of moderating the hot topics panel that traditionally closes the show. I had been really looking forward to this and putting a lot of thought into which of my fellow speakers should be in the line-up. I definitely wanted Joe: he’s like Statler and Waldorf rolled into one. I also really wanted to have Hannah Donovan on board. I thought it would be great to have someone who isn’t so well known on the speaker circuit fielding questions—especially someone so passionate and entertaining.

Well, Patrick wasn’t having any of it. Despite my strong protestations, he insisted on a more well-known constellation of panelists. I pointed out that this meant that the resulting panel would be a very homogenously male affair but he said he accepted full responsibility for that.

Well, alrighty then. If he was willing to stand behind that decision then I made sure to let everyone know that they could direct all queries about the all-male line-up to PTG.

Afterwards, a lot of people—including Patrick—told me that they thought I was being a bit harsh. Well, I’ll probably never get asked back to speak at @media again but feck it… I’ve had enough of the same heads talking at every conference (yeah, I know that’s rich coming from me).

But just let me have my little rant…

I’m not suggesting that someone should speak “just because they’re a woman”—that would be tokenism and we can all agree that that is a bad idea. But I think that diversity can be a factor in choosing speakers.

It’s naive to suggest that choosing a line-up for a conference is as simple as just getting the best possible speakers. It’s more complicated than that. The truth is that many factors go into the choice of speakers. For instance…

  • How good is this person at public speaking?
  • Is the subject matter relevant?
  • Did this person speak recently in the same geographical area?
  • How far would they have to travel to get here?

All of these questions are addressed in the choice of any speaker for any conference. All I’m suggesting is that the diversity question be just one more to add to the list. So that’s a far cry from suggesting that anybody should be chosen purely based on gender alone, okay?

Anyway… I wanted Hannah on the panel ‘cause she kicks ass and she deserves a wider audience. Still, the final line-up of the panel—Joe Clark, Richard Ishida, Dan Cederholm and Drew McLellan—was pretty darn stellar. We had a lot of fun; fun that was lubricated with the addition of a long-overdue bottle of wine I got for Dan to thank him for the use of the word “bulletproof.”

Again, once the podcast is available, you’ll be able to hear it for yourself and yes, I will get it transcribed.

As usual, the social events were the real highlight of the conference. I had a blast meeting up with old acquaintances and meeting new people over a beer or two. ‘Twas a pleasure to converse with such knowledgable and friendly peers.

Update I think I need to clarify why I had my little rant here. I’m not trying to pick on Patrick: Patrick put on a kick-ass conference featuring such kick-ass female speakers as Molly Holzschlag, Shawn Lawton-Henry and, of course, Hannah Donovan. My rant is aimed is at all the people who came up to me in the pub afterwards and accused me of wanting Hannah on the panel just because she’s a woman. That’s not the case at all, hence my explanation above (which I’ve broadened out to a wider defense of factoring in diversity as opposed to choosing speakers just because of anything).

I’m probably conflating two different rants here: lack of female speakers and lack of new faces. But let me make it clear again that Patrick specifically told me that he would take full responsibility for the all-male line-up of the panel: that’s why I mentioned it (and, no doubt, embarrassed him) at the beginning of the panel. Frankly, I thought it was very brave of Patrick.

Anyway, for those of you think I’m bashing Patrick, I’m not… or at least that’s not my intention. I’m bashing all the people who think that factoring in gender into a conference or panel line-up is immediately equal to tokenism. I hope now I’ve made that clear.

In any case, the hot topics panel and the whole conference was a roaring success. Yeah, I know this post sounded like I’m a real nitpicker but that wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to clarify my comments and my feeling about diversity… feelings for which I make no apology.

So I tried to make a well-meaning point but I got misread as simply being mean. Damn. I’ve been hanging out with Joe too much.

Settling down

As you may have noticed, I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently. In the space of one month I’ve been to Paris (for XTech), San Francisco (for @media America) and Copenhagen (for Reboot). I’ve had a lot of fun but I could do with a rest now.

I was looking forward to spending June and July relaxing in Brighton. I figured I could finally get ‘round to doing all those things that I just haven’t had time for. Maybe I could dust off the bike or just spend time out in the sunshine somewhere far away from airports.

That was the plan. But that plan was dealt a deathly blow when I arrived home from work the other day to find a letter from my landlord waiting for me. Jessica and I have been given two months to move out of the flat that we both love so much. I’ve been through the various stages of grief—denial, anger, etc.—and now I’ve reached acceptance. I’m just going to have to accept that I’ll be spending my Summer trying to find somewhere to live, doing all the necessary paperwork, and packing my worldly belongings into boxes.

On the plus side, at least I won’t be skipping out to go to any conferences in distant locations (I was going to be speaking at an event in Seville but that’s fallen through). I am speaking at one more conference but it’s mercifully nearby: I’m at the European leg of the @media roadshow in London.

The shoe is on the other foot now. All the North American speakers are wandering around in a jet-lagged daze, complaining about the time difference. All I had to do was hop on a train from Brighton to London.

As with the American edition, @media Europe kicked off with Jesse James Garrett delivering a keynote entitled Beyond Ajax. He managed to resist the urge to expose himself this time.

A lot of the talks here in London will be ones that I’ve already heard in San Francisco. I was originally going to do a different talk but, at Patrick’s request, I’m repeating the Bulletproof Ajax presentation. I’m not complaining. It means less work for me and I’m guessing there won’t be too many people here who were also in San Francisco.

This is a double-track conference. I was hoping that I would be going head-to-head with one of the other San Francisco presenters so that I wouldn’t feel like I was missing anything new. But fate and the schedule has conspired against me. I’m going to be up against a double-whammy presentation from the awesome Hannah Donovan of Last.fm and the ever-entertaining Simon Willison who seems to be able to naturally synthesise amphetimines when he’s on stage.

@media San Francisco 2007

Before this week, Jesse James Garrett was known for many things. His name was associated a style of diagrams, a book about The Elements of User Experience, and of course he coined the term Ajax. But from on, the name Jesse James Garrett will remind me of just one thing.

He opened up proceedings at @media here in San Francisco. I was sitting in the front row next to Joe. Joe leaned over and said “His fly is open.” My immediate thought was “I must Twitter this.” My second thought was “How am I going to subtly let Jesse know.” Joe solved that dilemma by simply declaring for all to hear, “Jesse, your fly is undone.”

Surely that must be a nightmare scenario for any speaker. Now that Jesse has lived the dream and played out the scenario, I feel it only fair to we commemorate and honour that contribution. From now on, if you hear my refer to someone doing a JJG, you’ll know what I mean.

Having recovered from his wardrobe malfunction, Jesse proceeded to deliver a superb and inspiring presentation. Amazingly, the high quality set by his talk was maintained for the entire conference (only plunging when I took to the stage).

Seriously, the quality of the presentations was staggeringly good, not just in times of subject matter but also delivery and execution. I would be very, very hard-pressed to choose a favourite though I probably got the most from Richard Ishida’s eye-opening discussion of internationalisation issues (a thread that ran through a number of presentations).

The real highlight of the conference program for me was undoubably the closing hot topics panel. Once again I had the privilege of playing Letterman to a stellar line of panelists: Joe Clark, Cameron Moll, Andy Clarke and Tantek Çelik. Boy, did they ever deliver the goods! The tone veered from comedy to tragedy with everything in-between By the end of an hour that passed by far too quickly, I felt that I had been party to something very special.

I thanked all the panelists afterwards but I just want to do it again in public so… thank you guys.

XTech 2007, day three

The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.

So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.

Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)

The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.

I can has Arduino?

Further reading on the nanotechnology of the semantic web

For those of you who attended my XTech talk yesterday (and, indeed, for those of you who didn’t), here are a few jumping off points I mentioned:




XTech 2007, day one

I’ve been a very bad conference attendee. I slept in this morning ‘till 11am and missed the opening keynotes. I was looking forward to seeing what Adam Greenfield had to say but I guess I was more tired than I realised.

It’s not like I had a particularly late night last night. I spent a very pleasant evening in a cosy bistro with Jessica, Brian, Andy and Gavin.

By the time I made it over to the conference venue, the morning sessions were wrapping up so I had lunch for breakfast. Once I was all caffeined up, I started getting ready for my talk.

I gave a presentation called microformats: the nanotechnology of the semantic web. I enjoyed myself and I think other people did too. I might have pushed the nanotech anology too far but I got a kick out of talking about buckyballs and grey goo. I talked for a bit longer than I was planning so I didn’t have as much time for questions as I would have liked but I also think I managed to anticipate a lot of questions during the talk anyway.

I should have really stuck around in the same room after my talk to listen to a presentation on RDFa and GRIDDL but I dashed next door to hear Gavin’s presentation on provenance. I loved this. He’s thinking about a lot of the same things that I have in terms of lifestreams and portable social networks but whereas I just talk about this stuff, he’s gone and built some proof-of-concept to illustrate how it’s possible today to join up the dots of identity online. I really wish he was coming to Hack Day.

Speaking of Hack Day (it’s just a month away now), I fully expect to see plenty of hacking on hardware going on. Before XTech, this was unknown territory for me but I know I’d really like to roll up my sleeves and get hacking (and I haven’t even heard what Matt Webb has to say yet).

Today I was introduced to a piece of hardware with a difference: the Nabaztag—a WiFi-enabled rabbit with flashing lights and movable ears. I want one. The Nabaztag presentation also included the quote of the day for me:

If you can connect rabbits, you can connect nearly everything.

XTech 2007, day zero

I’ve been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly lately. Last week I was over in Dublin for an Ajax seminar; the week before that I made a trip up to Rochdale for a workshop. Usually these trips involve an airplane at some stage of the journey and, while I don’t hate flying, the glamour of it has certainly worn off.

This week I’m in Paris for XTech 2007. I didn’t have to go anywhere near an airport or an airplane to get here. Myself, Andy, Jessica and Brian came over on the Eurostar. I know it’s not exactly a hi-tech mission impossible mode of transport any more but I’m still so thrilled to be able to get on a train in London and get off a few short hours later in Paris. The future is here and it doesn’t involve turbulence.

After a fun geek dinner on our first night, I got up bright and early to head over to the conference venue for registration. The conference proper doesn’t kick off ‘till Wednesday but it was preceded by a day of tutorials and a special ubicomp track. I went along to check this out and I found it all to be quite fascinating… though I’m not sure if I was even supposed to be there (there’s some byzantine system that explains who can get into what but I couldn’t follow it).

I caught the tail end of the first presentation which was by Dave Raggett. From the little I caught, it was stuff that would have gone way, way, way over my head. Dave then stuck around to ably steer the rest of the ubicomp talks.

Timo Arnall gave a superb presentation called Physical Hyperlinks comparing Bluetooth, SMS, RFID and barcodes. What really made this talk different was that he didn’t just talk about the technical aspects of each technology, he also examined the user experience and cultural nuances. Thought-provoking stuff.

A jetlagged Paul Hammond then told us all about location-based services and how the technology still sucks. I really like Paul’s pragmatic approach: at last year’s XTech, he pointed out the potential downsides to open data; this year, he outlined all the problems with geocoding. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of his insights was so blindingly obvious, it had me slapping my forehead: instead of trying to use machines to figure out where someone is, just ask them to tell you. That’s what Flickr did with their mapping interface: by dragging a photo onto a map, you’re telling the machine where you took the photo instead of the machine trying to extract geo information from your phone, camera, computer, or whatever.

Right after Paul, Matt Biddulph came on to talk about Second Life. But he didn’t stop there. He took the lessons of Second Life—quick and easy prototyping and hacking—and brought them into the real world, showing us how anyone can cheaply build real-world interactive objects. His enthusiasm is infectious and now I want to start making bluetooth-controlled toys just for the fun of it.

I skipped out the middle of the day to explore a bit of Paris with Jessica but I made sure to get back in time for Aaron Straup Cope’s talk on The Papernet: small pieces of paper loosely joined. Again, this was a very pragmatic presentation that pointed out the many advantages that a simple piece of paper has over a laptop or mobile phone. It all depends on context of course but there’s no denying the robustness and portability of plain ol’ paper. He also demoed some fun online toys that I’m going to try to find time to play with.

The day wrapped up with a talk from designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. Her perspective on things—coming from product design—was invaluable. This kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination can really help to shake things up. It was a great way to wrap up the day.

So plenty of inspirational stuff was offered up and the conference hasn’t even officially kicked off yet. Considering the subject matter, it was ironic that the WiFi is more or less non-existant at the venue. C’est la vie. Fortunately the hotel where I’m staying has a free connection. That’s where I’m blogging from right now.

I think I’d better call it a night. I need to get some beauty sleep so that I’m in a fit state to give my presentation tomorrow. If you’re at XTech and you’re curious about microformats, come along tomorrow right after lunch. À bientôt.

Socialising at South by Southwest

Much as I enjoyed the panels and presentations at South by Southwest this year, the real reason for making the trip to Austin is to hang out with fellow geeks. It really is like Summer camp.

There are some people that I consider very good friends that I only get to see at SXSW. I hope that situation will change and I’ll get to see these friends more often but in the meantime, Austin in March is the time and place for me to catch up with my buddies.

At the same time, one of the things I love about SXSW is getting to meet new people. Sometimes these are people I’ve been reading online for years; sometimes they’re complete strangers. Either way, I’m constantly amazed at just how nice everybody is. Is it something specific to geeks or did the human race just get a whole lot more pleasant while my back was turned?

Daytime socialising revolved around lunch, usually something Mexican although the steak as big as my head at the Hoffbrau was probably the lunchtime highlight. The traditional trip to the Iron Works involved the finest minds in JavaScript—a fun and constructive way to gorge on meat while discussing the Document Object Model.

The real fun started in the evening. I donned my trusty cowboy hat and ventured forth, guided by Adactio Austin. My little mashup was of help to quite a few people, which is gratifying to know.

I may be just a little biased but I honestly thought that the Great British Booze-up was the most fun. It wasn’t too loud but it wasn’t too quiet; it wasn’t too crowded but it wasn’t too empty. It was just right. And if everyone else there had just a fraction of the fun that I was having, then it was definitely a success.

As usual with events involving Clearleft, Andy did all the work and the rest of us sat back and took all the credit. For the record, Andy’s the man to thank and I for one welcome our new British Booze-up overlords. I think we’ll have to have another one next year, don’t you?

To all the people I met this year at South by Southwest: it was an absolute pleasure. And if I couldn’t remember your name in the corridor the next day, please forgive me. I’m not as young as I used to be and the Shiner Bock probably doesn’t prolong the life of my brain cells.

Storytelling at South by Southwest

South by Southwest Interactive 2007 was predictably wonderful; simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. On the one hand, it seems like I spent the entire time goofing off and having fun but at the same time, it’s been the most productive conference I’ve attended in quite a while.

SXSW is a great barometer for testing the current zeitgeist in the kingdom of the geek. Personally, the Southby canary in the Web coalmine was telling me one thing: it’s all about telling stories, baby.

Finally, technology is being relegated to its correct role: a tool for allowing people to connect and share their stories. Whether it’s Ruby on Rails, Ajax, tagging or the World Wide Web itself, I got the feeling that what really matters now is personal communication—storytelling by any other name.

Zeldman nails it when he says that independent content is the new web app. I for one welcome our new storytelling overlords.

The obvious poster child of this new revival is the superb Ficlets, brainchild of Kevin Lawver and executed—with AOL’s approval—by a kick-ass team including Jason Garber and the amazing Cindy Li. But even if you look at any of the other hip web apps like Twitter and Flickr, you’ll find that the reason why they’re so engaging is that they’re allowing people to tell their stories.

Even at South by Southwest, people were using the Web to tell stories. There’s the comedic tale of of course but there was also tragedy and even some romance. Listen to Bruce Sterling’s closing rant which rambles around the subjects of blogs, wikis, video and fan fiction (even when I disagree almost entirely with what he says, I still enjoy listening to him speak).

Mind you, this is all my own personal subjective impression of SXSW. It may well be that other people thought that advertising, revenue and business models were the hot topics but that’s certainly not what I experienced. I found a real spirit of excitement swirling around the question, “how can we make it easier for people to communicate?” Answering that question means tackling a range of subjects from visual design, typography through to the mobile web, accessibility, interaction design and the user experience. The question was confronted head-on in Kathy Sierra’s keynote but its presence could be felt hanging over all the presentations and panels I attended.

What I love most about this feeling I got from South by Southwest is its familiarity. It reminds me of why I got into web design in the first place.

Let me tell you a story…

I was at one of the innumerable late-night SXSW parties. In this case the free booze and music was provided by the good folks at Purevolume and Virb. I just had my Wii cherry popped and I was describing the experience to Andy who was my co-coinspirator for the How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0 presentation. John Halcyon Styn came over and told us effusively how much he enjoyed said presentation.

Now, plenty of other people had come up to me to give positive feedback about our jolly jape but this compliment from Halcyon really meant a lot to me. You see, he was one of the people who inspired me to make stuff for the web. I distinctly remember sites like prehensile tales, 0sil8 and the inimitable Fray triggering something in my brain that made me realise what it was I wanted to do with my life.

Here we are, ten years later, and South by Southwest has confirmed the choice I made back then. There’s a familiar feeling in the air and it’s nothing to do with corporate buy-out or business models. It’s the feeling of exhilaration and excitement that comes from connecting with people through a shared experience. It’s probably the same feeling that our ancestors had when they gathered around the campfire at night to swap stories. They had fire, we have the hyperlink. Our campfire is the whole world. Our stories are individual and multitudinous. Our time is now.

Time and motion

One year ends. Another begins. This is the traditional time to cast one’s gaze downwards towards one’s navel as Mark, Jonathan and Tom have already done.

There appears to be a meme circulating wherein the past year is tallied by places visited. This dovetails neatly with one of my busiest travel years yet so I’m going to run with it:

The highlight was visiting Australia. That really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was also a New Year’s resolution I was very happy to have fulfilled.

I’ll be reliving some of that Web Directions magic this year, but in Canada this time. I’ve never been to Vancouver and I’m really looking forward to it. By the way, if you’re still wavering about whether to go to this fine conference, take note that you have been granted a reprieve: the discount pricing has been extended to January 14th, so waver no more.

With Web Directions North looming, and South by Southwest still to come, 2007 is already shaping up to be another fun and busy year. It looks like this will be the year that I finally make it San Francisco.

In between the travelling, I anticipate that I’ll be doing more a lot more work with Clearleft. I spent most of 2006 slacking off real work by writing another book (more on that soon). This year, I want to sink my teeth back into some design work. I can feel my skills atrophying from too much writing and talking and not enough doing.

This year’s resolutions are:

  • to get back to some “real” work,
  • to keep travelling and speaking (I do love it so!),
  • to not write a book,
  • to play more bouzouki.

That last one is probably as unrealistic as “to get in shape” but I’m including it to induce the feelings of guilt required to motivate me.